CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and their fans possessed grand visions for an eight-game homestand.
The Blackhawks never had such a long homestand, and everyone envisioned the possibilities. They were going to take care of home ice now in order to secure it for later, and make their move on the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. It had the makings of a nonstop party at the United Center for two-plus weeks.
The fans who didn't depart and remained for the third period of Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins can fully grasp how far from a celebratory atmosphere the inside of the United Center was. Aside from the occasional shout from the beer vendors, the game may as well have been played in an empty building, as only the sounds of the puck hitting sticks and skates on ice filled the air.
What couldn't be heard, but certainly could be felt -- from the team's bench to the 300-level -- was the shock of what had happened so quickly. The Blackhawks were in the game down by just a goal to begin the second period and suddenly found themselves trailing by five goals 20 minutes later. Add in the fact that Chicago was outscored 3-0 in the third period in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday and fell to 2-2-3 on the homestand, and those grand visions had been completely decimated by the time the final horn sounded Sunday.
"That was one of those games where you can't be happy about anything that went on today," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The first period we're down 2-1. The second period was hard to watch. The third period was just another period.
"That definitely gets your attention. I know the last game was disappointing, but today is a different approach. So, across the board, we all should be looking forward to what we can do better."
The Bruins and Blackhawks entered Sunday's game with similar mindsets. Both teams were coming off bad losses, had been losing ground in the standings and were driven to fix that. The Bruins were the only ones to act on it, though. The situation was similar on Friday when the Avalanche appeared to just be hungrier than the Blackhawks.
"We were really motivated [after Friday]," Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "I couldn't really see this coming. Yeah, I don't really have an explanation.
"Obviously this was pretty embarrassing, especially in front of our home crowd. At the same time, they had a couple bounces that went their way. But they were better than us today, for sure. Have to admit that."
How the Blackhawks were outworked may not be explainable, but there are a number of reasons why Chicago hasn't been succeeding lately.
For one, the Blackhawks haven't been building leads in the first period. They are 19-2-0 when they lead after the first period. In their past 11 games, they have led once after the first period. They have been outscored 8-2 in the first period during that span.
Secondly, the Blackhawks still aren't getting consistent defensive play. Quenneville has tried a bit of everything in the defensive pairings and hasn't been satisfied. On Sunday, the overall defense had issues, but Michal Rozsival could have prevented two goals at the net and was on the ice for three goals total. The Blackhawks' defenseman depth was already questioned before Johnny Oduya suffered an injury Sunday that could keep him out a few games.
The Blackhawks also aren't getting a lot of scoring as of late. They have tallied 21 goals, including 11 5-on-5 goals, over the past 11 games, which is well below their 2.83 goals-per-game average. They also haven't been getting much production outside of their top-six forwards.
The Blackhawks have been a difficult team to put a finger on all season. They have had positive and negative stretches throughout their 60 games. They struggled to score early in the season, then went through a span in which they looked like the best team in the NHL, then went on the decline in late December, then were working their way back up to begin the current homestand, and again are trending the other way.
So what now? The Blackhawks know they have some issues, but they're not so easy to correct, as forward Patrick Kane admitted.
"If anything, I just think it shows when you're struggling -- it's not flip a switch and it's going to change right away," Kane said. "It's a process to get through and no matter how much talent, how much skill is in the room -- it's not like you can just turn it on and off. It's a process. We have to be way better starting right now in preparing ourselves for the next game."
The Blackhawks' dressing room was opened later than usual and an unusual number of players were still at their stalls when media members were allowed in after the game, but no one would officially say there was a team meeting or elaborate on what had been said.
Regardless, Hjalmarsson shared what had to be on all of his teammates' minds.
"We just have to find a way to get through this," Hjalmarsson said. "At the same time, this is the time to really show your true colors when stuff is going against you and you're not playing that great. It's going to be a good test for the group in here to find a way out of it."